Automotive history saved from the trash

“I am writing you to find out if what I have is of any value,” wrote Ron Venda to Trash or Treasure recently. “It’s a piece of Detroit history. †

He went on in the email to add additional information. “I work for Daifuku America who brought the Jervis B. Webb Company back in 2006. Until 2020 we were still operating as Jervis B. Webb Company. While I was in the estimating department a few years back, I was asked if I wanted to take on another assignment going to the storage facility where all the old job files and drawings were kept and clean it out to reduce the storage fee.

Ron Venda poses with this original hand-drawn sketch of the chain conveyor at the Studebaker Corp.

“I took on the task and found some interesting stuff while cleaning it out…one item I found was the Williamson-Webb job #3 for the Studebaker plant in Detroit. The job file contained layout sketch #1 dated September 27th, 1920 of the proposed conveyor for Studebaker hand drawn in pencil by Jervis B. Webb. The file also contains the bill of materials for the conveyor. This was the conveyor that got the automobile industry ready for mass production.”

“Whether it has any value, I have no clue,” he explained to appraiser Bob DuMouchelle, who took a closer look at the downtown auction house, marveling the pieces still exist. “Detroit was the Silicon Valley of its time,” he explained, adding “people flocked to Detroit.”

An original 1920 hand-drawn sketch of the chain conveyor at the Studebaker Corp.  owned by Ron Venda.

Historical artifacts like these do have value, he says, although it’s a limited market if Venda were to sell. “We have sold things like this through the years,” DuMouchelle explained, adding that the best market is research libraries or archives who may be looking for a specific item like Venda’s “It’s a piece of the puzzle to them,” he says.

The limited market makes it harder to appraise, he says, adding that Venda’s pieces of history could be worth anywhere from $200 to $400 for a general audience, but could fetch up to $1,000 if the right special market was interested. “These things are one-of-a-kind,” he said.